(1862-1922) US writer and editor, much of whose work was published under pseudonyms, some still unknown. He began to publish humorous sketches and stories while still in college, early material appearing in collections like New Waggings of Old Tales (coll 1888) with Frank Dempster Sherman, writing together as Two Wags, and Tiddlywink Tales (coll 1891). His first novel of interest, Roger Camerden: A Strange Story (1887), published anon, is a tale of supernatural dementia and, almost uniquely in his work, lacks any attempt at Humour. More typical was Toppleton's Client, or A Spirit in Exile (1893), an overcomplicated Ghost Story in which Horror and humour intermix. In novels like this – and in collections like The Water Ghost and Others (coll 1894), which contains his best work, Ghosts I Have Met and Some Others (coll 1898) and Over the Plum Pudding (coll 1901) – JKB attempted to master a comically debunking style of fantasy which was like that of Mark Twain in its occasional savagery (though lacking Twain's profundity or wit) and like that of L Frank Baum in the spoof literalism of some of its plots (though never to magic effect, as in Oz). For the most part, JKB's work has failed to survive.
A partial exception is the Houseboat on the Styx sequence: A Houseboat on the Styx: Being Some Account of the Divers Doings of the Associated Shades (1895), The Pursuit of the Houseboat: Being Some Further Account of the Divers Doings of the Associated Shades, Under the Leadership of Sherlock Holmes (1897) and The Enchanted Type-Writer (coll of linked stories 1899). Though the idea that the dead might be imagined as conversing together in Hell has a provenance extending back at least as far as Lucian's Dialogues of the Dead (circa AD150), what became known as the Bangsian fantasy (see also Afterlife; Posthumous Fantasy) established an amiable Club-Story atmosphere and implicated its eminent dead souls – some historical, some fictional (see Recursive Fantasy) – in prankish escapades. Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series descends directly from KKB's sequence.
Further attempts at spoof fantasy – like The Autobiography of Methuselah (1909), which burlesques Noah and his contemporaries – have been forgotten. The last years of JKB's career were spent on the lecture circuit, where he enjoyed a deserved success. [JC]
other works: Mr Bonaparte of Corsica (1895), anon; The Idiot (1895) and The Inventions of an Idiot (coll 1904); The Bicyclers, and Three Other Farces (coll 1896); The Rebellious Heroine (1896); The Dreamers: A Club (coll 1899); Mr Munchausen (coll of linked stories 1901) (see Munchhausen); Bikey the Skicycle, & Other Tales of Jimmieboy (coll 1902); Emblemland (1902) with Charles Raymond Macauley, whose Fantasma Land (1904) is a Bangsian spoof; Mollie and the Unwiseman (1902); Olympian Nights (coll of linked stories 1902); The Worsted Man: A Musical Play for Amateurs (1905 chap); Alice in Blunderland: An Iridescent Dream (1907); Jack and the Check Book (1911); Shylock Homes: His Posthumous Memoirs (coll 1973).
John Kendrick Bangs